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Lesson 12: Alive, Forgiven, Victorious! (Colossians 2:13-15)

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February 7, 2016

If I told you that I was going to go over to the cemetery and preach to the dead bodies there, you’d rightly think, “Steve has lost it!” And yet really, that’s what we’re doing whenever we speak to lost people about the Savior. Outside of Christ, people aren’t just spiritually misguided or weak or ignorant. They’re dead! They don’t just need to be persuaded to believe in Jesus. They need the Holy Spirit to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11) and they need God to make them alive from the dead.

So, as someone has said, before we get people saved, we need to get them lost. If they do not see that they are hopelessly dead in their sins, they will not see their need for new life. If they think that they’re doing okay spiritually, they may welcome a little guidance or assistance with their problems. But they won’t see their desperate need for new life.

So although lost people do not realize it, they have three crucial needs: (1) They are spiritually dead, alienated from God, so they need new life. (2) They are under God’s just condemnation because of their sin, so they need forgiveness. (3) They are living under Satan’s power, in his domain of darkness, so they need deliverance and victory over the forces of evil. In our text, Paul reminds the Colossians of these three great needs that God met for them in Christ. Paul is continuing to show the superiority of Christ over everything else, including the rules-keeping religion of the false teachers. Empty religion has no saving power, but Christ crucified and risen from the dead is all-powerful. Paul is showing that…

Because Christ died and is risen, in Him we have new life, forgiveness of all our sins, and victory over the forces of evil.

Verses 13-15 rest on the truth that Paul has just mentioned in verse 12: Baptism pictures our salvation, when we died with Christ and God raised us up with Him, when He raised Him from the dead. Through God’s grace in saving us, we are identified with Jesus in His death and resurrection.

1. Because Christ died and is risen, in Him we have new life.

Colossians 2:12-13a: “…having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, …” There are three truths to grasp here:

A. Apart from Christ, we were spiritually dead.

Paul could have used less severe language than this if he had wanted to. He could have said, “When you were apart from Christ, He brought you near.” That’s certainly true! He could have said, “When you were alienated from Christ, He reconciled you to Himself.” That’s also true. But here (also, Eph. 2:1) Paul uses the word “dead” to describe our condition before we met Christ.

Before Adam and Eve sinned, God told them that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die (Gen. 2:17). Death in the Bible always means separation, not cessation. So when Adam and Eve sinned, they were instantly separated from God. Their bodies became subject to the process of illness and aging that ultimately resulted in physical death. When a person dies physically, his soul is separated from his body. To be spiritually dead means to be separated from the living God, the author and giver of all life. If we die physically while we are still spiritually dead, we will be eternally separated from God, under His wrath, which would be the most horrible existence imaginable.

Death is an ugly thing and we should not minimize the horror of that word. A dead body is foul and corrupt. If the Jews touched a dead body, they were ceremonially defiled (Lev. 21:1-4). We embalm dead bodies and try to make them look as lifelike as possible, but the truth is, there is nothing pleasant about a dead body.

Paul says here that we were spiritually dead, because of two causes (or in two spheres): transgressions, which refers to sins we have committed; and the uncircumcision of our flesh, which refers to the sinful nature that we inherited from Adam. When Adam sinned, his sin was imputed to the entire human race (Rom. 5:12-21). That second phrase especially reminded the Gentile Colossians that before they met Christ, they “were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

So apart from Christ, we had two serious problems: we were spiritually dead because of our sins, and because of our sin nature which we got at birth. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because by nature we are sinners. Sometimes people say, “It’s unfair of God to impute Adam’s sin to the entire human race.” My reply is, first, a word of caution: It’s never right to accuse the Almighty of unfairness! Second, do you think you would have done better than Adam in obeying God? If so, you have too high an estimate of your own moral ability!

These two aspects of sin, our actual sins that stem from our sin nature, mean that we had a very serious problem. Adding good deeds to our sinful nature cannot solve that problem. You can put a tuxedo on a pig, but that pig will go right back to wallowing in the mud because it has a pig nature. You can dress a sinner in good deeds, but unless you change his heart, he will still go back to sinning. Also, all the good deeds in the world cannot eradicate the charges against us in God’s holy courtroom. And they do not raise the dead sinner to spiritual life. He needs resurrection.

B. Christ’s resurrection is the basis for our resurrection because through faith we are in Him.

In Colossians 2:12, Paul states that “you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” But even our faith does not originate with us; it is God’s gift (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29). So in verse 13, Paul attributes our new life totally to God: “He made you alive together with Him.” The Puritan Thomas Goodwin used to say, “There are but two men standing before God: Adam and Christ. And these two men have all other men hanging at their girdles.” (Source unknown. By “girdles,” he meant “belts.”) Either you’re spiritually dead in Adam; or, because God made you alive, you’re in Christ. There are no other categories. If you’re in Christ, it’s God’s doing, since …

C. Only God can raise the dead.

“He made you alive together with Him” (Col. 2:13). Becoming a Christian isn’t a matter of deciding to turn over a new leaf. It isn’t a self-improvement project or a resolution to try harder. No amount of persuasion can talk a spiritual corpse into spiritual life, because dead sinners cannot understand God’s truth (1 Cor. 2:14; John 8:43). They do not have spiritual ears to hear. No amount of efforts on the part of the corpse will bring about his own resurrection, because corpses aren’t able to do anything. God must impart new life to a dead sinner by His power.

There is an obvious difference between something lifeless and someone who is living. I learned this in what was the most fun job I’ve ever had—yes, even more fun than this job! The summer of 1970, I worked as “Charlie Chaplin” at the Movieland Wax Museum near Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California. Each day I would make myself up to look like Charlie Chaplin and then spend my day entertaining the guests. I would walk like Charlie, twirl my cane, and have my picture taken with everyone.

But the most fun of the job was when I would stand in a frozen pose to look like one of the wax figures. People would touch my hand, thinking that they were touching a lifeless wax statue. But I would grab the person’s finger and as he frantically tried to pull away, I would suddenly talk to him. At that moment, he discovered the difference between what he had thought was a lifeless wax figure and a living one! One rather large woman was so stunned that she couldn’t scream. She just walked backwards away from me and plopped her 200+ pounds on top of a baby in a stroller behind her. When I reached out to try to help her off the screaming baby, the woman went hysterical! I had to make a fast exit and leave the poor mother to try to pry this woman off her squashed baby.

There’s a huge difference between death and life. Spiritually, there’s a huge difference between dead religion and new life in the risen Savior. Do you have new life in Christ? Has God made you alive from the dead, so that you responded by saying, “Yes, Lord, I believe in You; I receive You as my Savior and Lord”? (See John 1:12-13.) If not, you may be just a good, religious person who is a walking spiritual corpse. You need life from God!

You may ask, “How can I know if I have spiritual life?” Well, how do you know if you’re alive physically this morning? I’m not sure about some of you, but most of you seem to have some signs of life! Your heart is beating, you’re breathing, you’re warm to the touch, you have an appetite. Spiritually, there are some vital signs. You have a heart for the things of God which used to bore you. You love Jesus because He died for your sins. You have a hunger for God’s Word. You struggle against sins that didn’t used to concern you. You’re growing in the things of God. And, you experience the forgiveness of your sins.

2. Because Christ died and is risen, in Him we have forgiveness of all our sins.

Colossians 2:13b-14: “… having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” J. B. Phillips paraphrases this, “He has forgiven you all your sins: Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross.”

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. In Colossians 1:14, Paul already said that in Christ we have the forgiveness of our sins. So why is he repeating it here?” The answer is, because it’s so wonderful that we need to hear it over and over again! Don’t ever get over the amazing truth that in Christ, you have forgiveness of all your transgressions! Note two things:

A. To save us, God had to deal with the penalty for our sins in line with His righteousness and justice.

God couldn’t just sweep our sins under the rug. The penalty had to be paid. If God did not demand the full penalty for our sins, He would not be righteous and just. If He were not righteous and just, He would not be God. If a robber killed your mother to get a few bucks to support his drug habit and the judge said to the murderer, “I love you, man! Try not to do it again,” you’d rightly be outraged. That judge would be unrighteous and unjust. Justice requires that lawbreakers pay the penalty for their crimes.

The Bible says that we all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Thus we all deserve eternal separation from God. We all have what Paul here calls “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which is hostile to us.” We come before the bench of God’s judgment as lawbreakers with thousands of counts against us! God cannot justly forgive us without the penalty being paid.

But perhaps you’re thinking: “But I’m a good person. I’m not a terrorist or rapist or child molester! I’ve never been arrested. I go to church and live a moral life. I don’t deserve death for my sins!” But if you’re thinking along those lines, you’re falling into the error that I mentioned earlier: You have too high a view of your own goodness and too low a view of God’s holiness.

When Paul mentions “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us,” he’s referring to the commandments of God’s law. That law is against us and hostile to us because it justly condemns us because we’ve broken it repeatedly. The first commandment is (Exod. 20:3), “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Can you honestly say that you’ve always obeyed that commandment? Right now, does God rightly have priority over everything in your life?

What about the second commandment? Have you ever served an idol instead of God? You say, “Of course not! I’m not a primitive pagan!” Oh! But let me ask, how many hours a week do you spend watching godless TV shows or movies? Could your possessions or your career be ruling your life? (Luke 18:18-23)? Some even make an idol out of Jesus. They set Him on the shelf and consult Him when they want something, but neglect Him the rest of the time. Do you have any idols?

The third commandment is that we should not take the Lord’s name in vain. You say, “That’s one that I haven’t broken!” Really? Even many Christians exclaim, “O, Geez,” which is short for “Jesus,” or, “O my God!” Very few of us honestly can say that we’ve never taken the Lord’s name in vain.

The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy. You say, “Christians aren’t under that commandment, are we?” My understanding is that we are not under the Jewish Sabbath laws. But there is a New Testament command about not forsaking assembling with the Lord’s people (Heb. 10:25). And, Sunday is “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10), which implies that it’s not my day. I read recently that most Christians now think that if they go to church twice a month, they’re committed. That strikes me as being half-committed! The fifth commandment is to honor our parents. Can anyone claim that you made it through childhood obeying that commandment? And it applies to us as adult children, too.

The sixth commandment is that we should not murder. Most of us could claim that we’ve kept that one, until we read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says that if we’ve ever been wrongfully angry with someone, we’ve murdered him in God’s sight. The same applies to commandment seven, not to commit adultery. If you’ve ever lusted, you’re guilty according to Jesus.

Number eight commands us not to steal. That applies to cheating on your taxes! Moving right along, number nine is against bearing false witness. Have you always been truthful? And number ten is directed at our hearts, telling us not to covet anything not belonging to us.

Jesus summed up both tables of the law by saying that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (commands 1-4) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (commands 5-10). We all stand guilty of breaking every command many times over. That’s why we have a huge IOU against us. God’s law is hostile to us, because it condemns us all as guilty. So, how can we possibly escape the just condemnation of God’s holy law?

B. On the cross, Christ completely paid the debt that we owe.

Paul piles up terms to reinforce this wonderful truth. First, he says that God has “forgiven us all our transgressions.” “Forgiven” comes from the Greek word for “grace.” It means that God grants forgiveness as a free gift, not as payment to those who earn it. You can’t get forgiveness by doing penance or promising to try harder. It’s a free gift that you can only receive.

Note also that God forgave all our transgressions. While we need to ask His forgiveness when we sin to restore fellowship with Him, once we have trusted in Christ we never need to ask forgiveness to restore our salvation. That transaction was taken care of once for all when we trusted in Jesus Christ as our sin-bearer. Paul adds that God has canceled out or erased our IOU or certificate of debt. It’s gone!

But how can God do that and still be just and righteous? The answer is, “He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for every sinner who trusts in Him. As Paul put it (2 Cor. 5:21), “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” By Jesus paying the penalty, God can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). So the crucial question is, “Have you put your trust in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross as the payment for all your sins?” If so, then your debt has been paid in full.

But maybe you’re thinking, “I have trusted in Christ, but I still feel guilty sometimes. When I sin, even if I confess it and turn from it, it keeps coming back to haunt me. Is that guilt from God?” If you’ve truly trusted in Christ and repented of your sin, the answer is, no. Your guilt is from Satan, the accuser of the saints (Rev. 12:10; Zech. 3:1-5). Thus you need to know …

3. Because Christ died and is risen, in Him we have victory over the forces of evil.

Col. 2:15: “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” “Through Him” could be translated, “through it,” that is, the cross. But either way, it refers to Christ crucified. God took what looked like Satan’s greatest moment of triumph, the death of the sinless Lord of glory, and turned it into Satan’s greatest defeat. On the cross, Jesus accomplished perfect redemption for all of His people. We were captives in Satan’s domain of darkness, but through Jesus’ death, God rescued us (Col. 1:13).

When Paul speaks of God disarming the rulers and authorities, the picture is of a Roman general’s triumphal parade. The conquered foes were stripped of their armor and paraded in shame through the streets in chains. When Christ willingly gave His life on the cross to pay for our sins, Satan and his evil forces were stripped of their power over us. They can no longer rightfully accuse us, because Christ has paid the debt of our sin. They can no longer hold us captive through the fear of death, because Christ won the victory over Satan and over death on the cross. His victory was confirmed when God raised Him from the dead. And we who believe are raised with Him, seated in heaven with Him (Eph. 2:6).

So when the enemy accuses you, tell him to take it up with Jesus and His shed blood. James 4:7 says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Satan has no power over us because Jesus died and was raised on our behalf.

Conclusion

For the godly British pastor, William Sangster, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ filled him with hope, even as he faced his own death from a slow, degenerative muscular paralysis just shy of his sixtieth birthday. He devoted his fading energy to the cause of Christ, organizing prayer groups and writing articles and books as long as he could. Finally, his vocal cords were paralyzed and he could only move two of his fingers to scratch out written messages.

On his final Easter morning just a few weeks before he died, he could not speak. But he wrote a letter to his daughter in which he said, “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!’ But it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.”

Dead religion cannot give new life. It can’t forgive your sins. It can’t defeat the devil. The crucified and risen Savior can. Trust in Him and enjoy life, forgiveness, and victory!

Application Questions

  1. If dead sinners are unable to believe before God gives them life, how can He hold them accountable for unbelief? How can we urge them to believe if they can’t believe?
  2. Some argue that everyone can believe if they simply choose to. What Scriptures show that even saving faith is God’s gift? Why is this important?
  3. The notion that we’re good people, not deserving of God’s wrath, is a main obstacle to overcome when you’re sharing the gospel. What are some ways to show sinners their true guilt?
  4. How can a believer know whether his guilt is conviction from the Spirit or condemnation from the enemy?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Forgiveness, Soteriology (Salvation)

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